Writing a Cozy Mystery for High School

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It’s that time in our high school homeschooling where we write a novel. This year we are writing a cozy mystery.

Yes, I decided years ago, that all of my children would spend one year in high school writing a novel. It’s been fun but also such a learning experience, and, as an added bonus, they have learned so much about literature in the process, deepening their understanding and appreciation.

Since we are big mystery fans, many of my teens have opted for writing a cozy mystery. We read classic mysteries by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ellery Queen and watch detective shows like Perry Mason, Murder She Wrote, Monk, and Matlock. We don’t just read the books and watch the TV shows, we analyze them.

  • How did they misdirect us?
  • What were the clues?
  • What were the red herrings that led us astray?
  • How did they surprise us yet make us feel that we should have seen it?
  • What about our detective made us root for him/her?

So, how are we going to go about writing a cozy mystery?

Well, we start with our detective.


Creating the Detective

Creating a detective is super fun! First, we look at all the detectives we like and try to figure out why we like them. We examine their personalities, careers, quirks, pets, friends, mannerisms, and style of detecting.

Then we let our imaginations go! We create our own detectives. Maybe a homemaker who just keeps running across dead bodies. Or a detective inspector from Scotland Yard. How about a physical trainer whose gym is full of potential suspects? Or a medical inspector who knows there is something fishy about the dead body.

Once we get a general idea, we add personality quirks, background, family, friends, and even pets.


Creating Characters

Of course, we can’t stop with our detective. We have to move on to creating our murder victim, the detective’s sidekick, and the suspects.

“Hey, that character is me!” one of children charged another.

“But you make such a good suspect,” they replied in earnest.

“Hey, we’re learning to write fiction,” I interrupted. “Let’s create characters, not copy them!”

We spend lots of time brainstorming at this point, discussing ideas and possibilities with one another. The whole family is involved by now!

We ask questions like:

  • What would a conversation with him/her be like?
  • How would he/she investigate a crime scene?
  • What would his/her Facebook page look like?
  • What would he post on Instagram?
  • What church would he go to?
  • How will he/she reveal what really happened or discover the true murderer?

Creating Clues and Red Herrings

We will also create clues for the detective to follow. Footprints? Fingerprints? Things out of place? A strand of hair? A broken watch?

Along with clues, there needs to be twice as many red herrings to throw the detective and the reader off the scent.

Clues and red herrings are so much harder than they sound because you have to keep track of everything. It really does require logic and careful plotting of the story.

Of course, clues and red herrings are all in addition to showing, not telling, about our characters, creating dialogue, and keeping the plot moving toward the climax.

Most of us need help to keep track of everything. That’s where keeping a meticulous notebook and involving others comes in.


Reading Our Writing Aloud

One of the best kept secrets of how to edit a writing paper is to read it aloud to a real person. As you are reading and they are responding, you can hear mistakes, see when they are just not following you, and even detect when your listener is losing interest.

Well, in writing a novel or cozy mystery, it’s even more important to read aloud. You can draft family members to help or even friends. We set up a weekly time where we read everything aloud to one another. Our listeners become so involved with the story and they often end up being brutally honest.

“There’s no way he could have eaten the blueberry pie in chapter 7 because you told me he’s allergic to blueberries in chapter 3.”

“Oops, I forgot that!” we moan.

Sometimes our stories begin to take on a life of their own, and we end up going in a completely different direction than we originally planned. In that case, it’s important to double-check all the planning notes to save us from making a major mistake in leading our reader down a path of misdirection and surprising him with our twist ending.

Well, we are excited to start off on our cozy mystery adventure!

How about you? What are you doing for writing this year? Please comment below to share.

Oh, and here are some resources.


Resources for Teaching Kids to Write:

Teaching Little Ones to Write a Sentence

Benefits of Writing a Who-Dun-It

What I Teach in High School English Courses

Until next time, Happy Homeschooling,


Meredith Curtis


Meredith Curtis, homeschooling mom, writer, speaker, and publisher, loves to encourage families in their homeschooling adventure. She is the author of the Maggie King Mystery series, Who Dun It Murder Mystery Literature and Writing Course, Americana Newspaper Reporting, Travel God’s World Geography, and HIS Story of the 20th Century. You can check out her books, curricula, unit studies, and Bible studies at Free Reading Lists for all ages are available at Read her blogs at ( and and listen to her at Finish Well Radio.


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"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).